A controversial show that involves horses diving off a 40ft platform is set to return to Atlantic City, New Jersey, USA this summer.

The owners of Steel Pier in Atlantic City announced they are bringing back the diving horses show. But the move is opposed by welfare groups.

The shows were popular in the early 20th century, where horses would “dive” around 40ft off a platform. The horses this summer will be ridden by stunt riders.

Steel Pier President Anthony Catanoso told local press: “Nobody can show us any documentation that the diving horse act here on Steel Pier ever harmed an animal, ever produced any kind of cruelty or abuse. We would not do that.”

But Nancy Beall, president of the Atlantic County Society for the Protection of Animals, said: “I think it’s disgusting and I think it’s cruelty to animals. It certainly can’t be safe for the animal.”

Tony Catanoso, one of the pier’s owners, told the Press of Atlantic City added: “We know the diving horse is controversial, but I think people need to look at the bigger picture. A diving horse is going to be iconic. It’s going to be a small piece of the development project that will bring family entertainment back to Atlantic City.”

The act began in the 1920s created by Dr W F Carver. Dr Carver had been returning home on horseback some years earlier when a bridge he was crossing collapsed. Both him and his horse plunged 40ft into a raging river. His horse dived and both swam to shore safely. Then Dr Carver wondered if horses could be trained to dive.

Perhaps the most famous rider was his daughter in law Sonora Webster Carver. But Sonora was injured diving in 1931 and was blinded. But she continued to take part in the show for next 10 years and her story was made into a Disney film in 1991 called Wild Hearts Can’t be Broken.

Diving horses finished in 1978. There was a failed attempt to bring back the show in the 1990s.